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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Comment of the Moment: The (Dis)-Passion of A Neil Young Fan

Neil Young
(Click photo to enlarge)

As with all things Neil, there must be contradictions wherever an opinion is ventured.

Just as we lamented on the decline of quality comments here at TW, no sooner than a number pop up on the Comment of the Moment: The Passion of A Neil Young Fan thread where we highlighted a particularly passionate long time Neil fan.

But of course some folks just have to disagree that a 68 year old rock veteran is still relevant and vibrant. Some see it -- but many don't, like TopangaDaze who said...
I still follow Neil and always will, but my passion has waned greatly. Neil has always been wildly inconsistent in both thought and action, but I actually think he's losing his integrity and credibility with these recent ridiculously simple, sloppy commentary concept albums.

Playing armchair psychologist, as I've said before, I think it comes down to his ever increasing fear. Not just his fear for the planet or the future, but for his relevance. For the most part he's afraid to commit to truly working on an album because he fears it will be criticized, or worse yet, ignored.

These immediate commentary throwaway albums are his way of saying how authentic he is and how sales and critics don't matter to him. In reality, I believe they now matter more to him than ever, but he can't face his increasing irrelevance. By releasing these largely one-take concepts, he's able to entirely hedge his bets. He can always say he just wants to get his thoughts out to the public as quickly as possible, but to me he's really saying he doesn't think he can do any better and doesn't want to have to face that reality.

He is still an incredible musician as his live shows attest, but on record as a creative musically poetic songwriter, those days are likely regrettably gone.

On a more positive note, he's already created a treasure trove of material for us to savor and digest as long as we all may run.
Thanks TopangaDaze for the opinion which many agree and disagree with.

It seems that the long knives are emerging even before The Monsanto Years album is released in June judging by the pre-judgements. And we've seen how these pre-judgements turn out before. Remember The Judgement Not To Pre-Judge "Americana", anyone???

Let us just say that if the Internet had been around in the 1980's, we would have read this after TRANS came out. And after Landing on Water came out. And after Life came out. Likewise, in the 1990's after Looking Forward came out. Or, in the 2000's after Are You Passionate? came out or practically every album since then.

In fact, we've tracked this rise and fall of Neil Young "fashion" over the years in articles like Peak Neil?

Or check out the Rust Never Sleeps analysis and The Greendale Challenge for more on artistic freedom and creativity vs. audience pandering.

Lastly, the most important thing to say about Neil Young is that he is a survivor. And not just any survivor but Neil Young is THE quintessential survivor.

peace & love. stay calm. no fear. use discernment. be the wheat. prepare for the big shift and keep on rockin' in the free world.



At 5/21/2015 08:08:00 AM, Blogger Pinto (or Flounder) said...

Dear Thrasher

With all due affection, when was the last time you listened to Landing on Water or Life or Looking Forward or Are You Passionate?

So if what you're trying to say is that Neil has always made some crappy albums, few would disagree.

How many years ago,was it that you wrote that if I was waiting for another "classic" album, it might take a long time?

We're both still waiting.

Nevertheless, the Man is alive and involved and seemingly happy, so more power to him (and you.)

Best as always.

At 5/21/2015 10:30:00 AM, Blogger Mick Funz said...

I think this is a clear-eyed assessment of our hero these days. As others have said, at least he's still a great live act.
There have been just too many records lately & too many missed opportunities. LE NOISE was just blah. Daniel Lanois musta been thinking the whole time: 'Jeez Neil, maybe have some actual songs when we do this next time, if there's a next time.' Psychedelic Pill? Horrible name, should have called that album Walk Like A Giant.
As a fan who got into Neil in the 1990s, I had hoped that records like Fork in The Road were rare but they're not lately.
Prairie Wind is overrated. Silver & Gold is much superior.
At least Are You Passionate has some good tunes if some horrible R&B singing attempts.
Greendale's good. Interesting.
The Dispassionate Fan comment is speaking something very interesting, I think he's saying something deep about Neil as an artist right now.
I think Neil could wow us with some gems before it's over but i'm lucky in that I'm still hearing some older Neil for the first time. The journey continues.

At 5/21/2015 11:50:00 AM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

For what it's worth, I always liked Landing on Water and Life. To me those albums were the seedlings for his 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) comebacks. I was still a fairly young man then and they were in my constant rotation for at least a year or two.

Both albums were filled with good basic rock with a little "modern" touch. Clear vocals, more than a few interesting songs/lyrics and some catchy hooks.

In fact, I think it's time to take Landing on Water out for a spin or two. I haven't listened to it in quite a few years--we'll see how it has aged (or I have)...

Take my advice, don't listen to me.

At 5/21/2015 03:52:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

FWIW i respectfully disagree ... I don't think Neil would have the body of work that he has if he was so self conscious and calculated as to produce art motivated by the desire to stay relevant ... I go to the other extreme and say he does these concept albums because he wants to and he could care less what anyone will think (which admittedly is annoying sometimes but also the essence of his following the muse). He knows fans will pay for the live shows and nobody makes money making records anyhow. I for one always see the glass half full with him since the live shows have been consistently exceptional and the recorded output is prolific and there are usually some gems tucked into every album ... some i like more than others but the canon is stronger for it ... WLAG, No Hidden Path, ext ... these are epic classics on par his best work ... I think PP with a Briggs could have gotten to the level of a great album ...sans Briggs it was just good ... Le Noise was solid ... I came to love 'Letter Home' (albeit its a covers album) after fearing I'd hate it ... FITR for me was a throw away .... but net net the great artists of Neil's day, the Stones, the Who, the Dead ... you're lucky if you get an album every 5 years so if we get a good one (even if its not a great one ) every couple of years I'm pretty happy ... all that said, yea most fans (myself included) hold him to a high standard and he's, on some level, got the burden of having his current output compared to his best works ... I tend to think his recent output will age well but only time will tell ...

At 5/21/2015 04:38:00 PM, Blogger Lloyd Walton said...

Damn. He had a good thing going with HARVEST.
Why can't he just keep doing that over and over and
over and over ?

At 5/21/2015 06:54:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Pinto (or Flounder) - well it's been quite awhile since we last saw you here. welcome back.

Let's see, when was the last time we listened to LOW, Life, LF or AYP? Actually we checked out Life within the last 6-9 months.

As with much, it was a revelation since we hadn't played it in awhile. We actually have long preferred to listen to concert tapes since -- in our opinion -- it reveals Neil at his best. we rarely have found that the album song versions to be superior to the concert versions (aside from poor taper quality. damn tapers).

It has been awhile since we wrote about waiting for another "classic" album. good memory.

Psych Pill was pretty great and songs like Ramada Inn are right up there in all time Top 10 concert songs, we'd say.

So yes, power to him (and you, as well.)

Hope you'll be heading back this way someday soon...

@Mick - Yes, The Dispassionate Fan comment is something we've heard before and no doubt continue to hear in the monsanto years ahead of us.

Seriously, don't we all have questions about relevancy? Here's a debate question: Is Dylan's new music today relevant?

Journey on.

@ TopangaDaze - thanks again for the thought provoking comment. It's why we do what we do.

And if spurs a few folks to pull a few old ones off the shelf for reassessment, that's a good, fun thing.

Likewise, take our advice, don't listen to us.

@ Dan1 - We like your style of seeing the glass half full. if only more could.

The thought of Briggs producing PP is intriguing. But it probably would've been a single album only.

Like you say about Neil's contemporaries from 60's/70's like Stones, the Who, the Dead -- is there new music relevant? Or is there even new music?

@ Lloyd - Yeah, HARVEST was a great album. Maybe he'll do a followup like Harvest Moon or something? Or Harvest Moon 2? ;)

At 5/21/2015 09:56:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

For me, I think most of it boils down to the fact that Neil's simply releasing way too much material, much of which is throwaway quality. There's a law of diminishing (quality) returns at play here, and as they say, a little absence makes the heart (and ear) grow fonder...

Everything being said, here's hoping Neil is happy and fulfilled, though also filled with at least a little righteous rage to drive his creative process. He's earned the right to release whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and I'll always pay attention to some extent.

At 5/22/2015 12:40:00 AM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

I think there are some interesting comments here, and in the end can’t argue with the fact that your “passion has waned greatly”, TopangaDaze. I think you have a valid perspective based on your views, I guess my perspective is just different based on my views. In line with a lot of the criticism aimed at Neil tho, the gratuitous outpouring of which has reduced me to a dispassionate observer of TW these days, I would have to disagree with the notion that Neil fears his output “will be criticized, or worse yet, ignored”, or that he “can't face his increasing irrelevance”. I think this would be totally out of character for a guy who has never cared about these things. Besides, I think an argument can be made that Neil has never been more relevant, or less ignored, and that “too much output” has more to do with the numerous things he is focused on now, as compared to a more narrow focus in earlier years.

I think it still comes down to the fact that a lot of people just don’t get Neil- and I don’t say that I do, not truly. But at the very least, I understand this: “this” (whatever music it is that people are alternately praising or disparaging) is not a function of calculation on Neil’s part (yes, Neil has done not a few calculated things), so much as it is about what is happening right now in his life, mixed together with the reality that he can’t not do it. Neil fits the mold of a troubadour, someone who “sets verse to music”, and who must perform it for others because that’s who he is. Maybe his minimalist sensibilities rule him too much for some people’s taste, and don’t mix too well with a prolific output, but “throw away albums”? That’s what critics have said about any number of segments of the discography, and I agree with Dan1 that they will stand the test of time.

I was looking for a quote from Bill Shapiro about the troubadour angle, and came across one of my own comments from a while back here on TW, and after re-reading it don’t think I can improve upon it. A little long, and you have to fill in the blanks a little differently, but I think it’s still relevant. FWIW.

At 5/22/2015 12:41:00 AM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

“Every now and then something prompts me to go back and reread the great Cameron Crowe Rolling Stone interviews. They always seem to provide a perfect perspective for the newest flavor of the moment controversy, as in the case of this blog. People very rarely change, or change their stripes. Maybe they have their lapses, and Neil is human for sure, but I’d be shocked to find out it was ever about the money. It’s about what’s happening right now- in his head, in his life, in the world around him. Is that really so hard to understand? People don’t understand something, they don’t like something, they don’t know- they freak out and start flailing about trying to make sense of something they’re not privy to. I’m not privy to anything either, but I rest my mind in the experience of what 40 years of Neil Young have given me, and it’s all about the music and the integrity. Money motive just doesn’t wash with me.

I don’t have anything more to say about the recent music- too much has been said already- other than to say that Thrasher is probably on to something by likening GD/LWW/CDII/FITR to the “ditch trilogy”, and in that event hold onto your hat for what might be coming next. Revisionism notwithstanding, I was there when it was happening, and clearly remember the gnashing of teeth in the music world over the impending demise of Neil Young, and the dismissiveness of the people who didn’t understand, who felt the need to save Neil from himself. Beyond this, Bill Shapiro of “Cypress Avenue” said it all when he likened Neil to a troubadour, someone who is compelled to perform for people. You might find someone like this playing to a local bar like as not playing to an “ocean of shaking hands”. It’s not about the money. As one blogger pointed out somewhere, heart rending and angst ridden youth produced heart rending and angst ridden music, but now having moved beyond these things, different things are producing different music- things like the deterioration of society, the degradation of the environment, war in the middle east, and the need for energy alternatives. Laced through all of it is the need for the artist, the individual, to make sense of it all and have something to say. There’s a need, and it ain’t pretty.

I’ll let the following Crowe excerpts say the rest:
“Every one of my records, to me, is like an ongoing autobiography. I can't write the same book very time. There are artists that can. They put out three or four albums every year and everything fucking sounds the same. That's great. Somebody's trying to communicate to a lot of people and give them the kind of music that they know they want to hear. That isn't my trip. My trip is to express what's on my mind.“

“I don't want to feel like people expect me to be a certain way. Nobody expected Time Fades Away and I'm not sorry I put it out. I didn't need the money, I didn't need the fame. You gotta keep changing. Shirts, old ladies, whatever. I'd rather keep changing and lose a lot of people along the way. If that's the price, I'll pay it. I don't give a shit if my audience is a hundred or a hundred million. It doesn't make any difference to me. I'm convinced that what sells and what I do are two completely different things. If they meet, it's coincidence. I just appreciate the freedom to put out an album like Tonight's the Night if I want to.”

At 5/22/2015 12:41:00 AM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

“One afternoon during a tour several years ago, Young sat in his manager's hotel room. The phone kept ringing, tour crew members bustled in an out... and through it all, Young sat on the bed with his son Zeke, peacefully watching the news.

The broadcast was interrupted by an emergency bulletin. Pat Nixon had suffered a stroke, an announcer said over a filmed report of the sad and beaten Richard Nixon tearily moving through the hospital's revolving doors. After a time, Young got up and disappeared into his bus in the parking lot. Onstage several hours later, Young played the song he had written…“ (Campaigner)

"People don't understand sometimes," he says, looking down at a pencil he's toying with, "how I can come in and go out so fast, how I can be there and want to do something and then when it's over, for me it's over. To other people it's just a beginning. Sometimes that's hard for people to take. I can see how that would be. I just don't like to stay in one place very long. I move around, I keep doing different things . . ." He looks up. "Just different things."

It must be difficult, I wonder, to decide which impulses to follow.

"I only follow the ones I get," says Young. "And if it makes me laugh... I know it's a good one. Basically I've had a really good time, even though my songs have mostly expressed the down side. I like that there's a lot of humor in rock & roll now. A lot of people take me so seriously. They don't know what to do with me not taking myself so seriously anymore.”

"I've got a job to do, I've got to just tear down whatever has happened to me and build something new. You can only have it for so long before you don't have it anymore. You become an old-timer... which... I could be... I don't know.

"After all, it's just me and Frank Sinatra left on Reprise Records."

Does anybody doubt that Neil is laughing and having fun right now, or that something’s getting torn down in the process? Is it just too much to handle that the same man employing the same method that in the past produced something “musically pleasing”, is now producing music that is not “melodic” enough or “lyrically complex” enough? I think it’s time for everyone to take a chill pill, and give the guy a break. After all, it has to be pretty lonely sometimes now that Frank is gone.”

A Friend Of Yours

At 5/22/2015 01:56:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

Here's the thing. Most artists don't have the balls to actually say what they think about Socio-Political and Environmental issues. They are afraid to become unpopular, get boycotted, and sell a lot less concert tickets or iTunes songs. Neil has an advantage in that he doesn't care about that stuff. A Letter Home had great material but horrible resolution. I ripped the "Clean" copy and it actually sounds great. The live versions of these songs were better still. The latest album has some very sweet songs on it. It also has some touching Goodbye songs on it, again, very autobiographical. Say Hello to Chicago could have come from the Bluenotes. Fork in the Road contains some great rockers and some keen insights. He called it when the Big Banks were getting rescued by… the Taxpayers. Light a Candle is a perfectly optimistic and beautiful song. Neil is speaking prophetically about a wide range of topics. He isn't happy about the Iraq war (war profiteers). He feels sorrow when he contemplates environmental destruction and the white people (still) stepping on the Natives. Le Noise was a brilliant masterpiece. I don't love it just because I have native blood in my veins, I love it for the truth it tells. It also F*cking ROCKS. Angry World is a fantastic song about… reality. The recordings for this tour prove Neil is still… The Gun. He is a one man band. Was Le Noise not great enough for you? Americana… This album Blazes. It is heavy hitting. This is RITFW blowing up the old folk standards and a classic cover of S.Stills' High Flying Bird. The album is strong. And Neil contemplates mortality. He is growing up and growing old. Psychedelic Pill is fantastically powerful. It also is Neil writing his autobiography to music, Epic lengthy passages with soaring, inspired guitar. Old Black cracks open the Heavens and Reigns Glory, again. Ramada Inn. Walk Like A Giant. And some very catchy little ditties: Ontario and Twisted Road. In the end, your flagging satisfaction with Neil Young may say more about you than about Neil's output or level of quality. Have your Testosterone level checked. How's your "Backbone" ? I am SO looking forward to The Monsanto Years album. I am praying he tours to Seattle or within range. What am I up to? Well, lets see, my family is raising organic chickens for eggs, growing an organic garden, just got my rain barrels set up due to the drought in WA state, now joining the dry Southwest in dryness in the New Weather. Oh, and this Saturday, May 23rd, I am Marching Against Monsanto in downtown Seattle again. Last year's protest march was great. Are any of you engaged in the modern threat to our food supply posed by incredibly large amounts of poison being sprayed on it? GMO defenders like to think of things like hybridization… they fail to see the point that the company just wants to sell more poison to spray on the food supply. The level of poison, in hundreds of millions of gallons, is a HUGE increase. There is evidence that herbicides (Rounup) cause Autism and a host of other health ailments, like Non-Hodgekin's Lymphoma. Monsanto is not trying to FEED the World, it is trying to make food that won't reseed itself so all the countries are forced to buy seed from… Monsanto. Wake up, y'all. Any Global Warming Deniers trying to listen to Neil Young's new albums? It must get tiresome hearing new anthems like "Who's Gonna Stand Up?" when you can't embrace the concept. So many Americans shrink at the mention of real threats to the world. I am not talking about ISIS. I am talking about Global Warming.Any of you all heard that new live song "Stand in the Light of Love" yet? That is a great song, a very potent and powerful environmental anthem. Long Live Neil Young. Keep putting out your albums. It has been a pleasure to take the journey with you. Great Spirit, Neil Young still has much work left to do on this dying planet. Let us have him for some more years. Thank you. Alan in Seattle.

At 5/22/2015 04:56:00 AM, Blogger Glenn said...

"Life" sounds like a work of genius compared to recent albums. That's the frightening thing.


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